Walking along the Rivulet on a hot summer’s day.
I love sleep.
I especially love the sleep engendered after a good long walk in a blizzard.
Or the sleep that follows a day of Qi Gong.
And not forgetting the sleep brought on by a long, deep Epsom Salt bath.
The best sleeps are the ones you awaken from in your own good time. You have a sense that your dreams have been deep and fulfilling, your molebody is embraced by and melded into the mattress and duvet, and a soft, cool breeze brushes your exposed snout.
After the best sleeps you want to stay in bed and leap out and live the day in equal measure.
It is just past the equinox and it is time to stop hibernating. I know the spring has come because the sun has reached an angle that casts its rays onto my closed eyelids. I can see it from the inside, so to speak, the orange, and feel the warmth.
I would like to slowly move into the rhythm of spring, feel its contours and the gentle widening of the days. But I am barely hatched from my hibernation and now our clocks leap forward and tomorrow we are to be catapulted into bright evenings. Our bodies, still attuned to the darker months, will be dazzled by these longer days, forget to eat early, wind down and go to bed in time to sleep long and well enough to raise ourselves again an hour earlier than we have become accustomed to.
As the days grow longer I sleep less and less.
I love the darker months we are leaving now. They enclose me, guide me deeper, make a burrow of the world, or at least my world here in the deep south of the southern hemisphere.
I barely know another soul who does not delight in daylight saving. I can hear the jubilation around me as my fellow creatures anticipate evenings basking on terraces, pottering in their gardens, carousing in the streets.
For now my inner moleclock trembles, wonders how best to find its equilibrium.
Moles, generally speaking, don’t hibernate but we do tend to hunker down deeper into our burrows in winter, only emerging for chocolate or whisky or ink if something has gone awry with our planning. Winter has settled in so far here it is nearly over. It has taken me a while this year to stop moving about and go down deep; to enter the stillness of it. It might have been that I would never have found that spot of timelessness at had a timely lurgi not overtaken me.
It was a dull, grey week when the lurgi came but just within eyesight from where I lay under my smother of doonas, I could see a luminous patch on my wall, an exuberance of golds, greens and blues. Apart from jollying me up it took me back to another mid-winter – a much colder one – when I was staying with Great Uncle Mole. I wouldn’t normally have been there at that time of year because Uncle Ratty was often away and Great Uncle Mole liked to lose himself in complicated tunnel designs. But it was one of those occasions when Mama and Papa were suddenly whisked away on some hush hush mission, and a hasty mole drop arrangement had to be made for me.
As it was usually Uncle Ratty who kept me entertained I was pretty much on my own this time. I knew that as long as I was quiet I could pretty much do as I pleased. And what most pleased me was wallowing among the treasures in the cellars.
After an hour or two of glorious abandonment, I came across an old paraffin heater and realised suddenly that although I was wearing two jumpers and a bobble hat the chill had now even penetrated my vest. A paraffin heater, but no matches and no paraffin.
I thought, perhaps, I might have some luck in the coal cellar and so headed off to the nether-nether regions of the burrow. I was about two-thirds of the way there when my torch battery failed. If you ever been at the bottom of a burrow you will know just how dark it is, but whatever ghoulies and ghosties might be lurking, I was determined to continue on. And you can imagine how relieved I was when I reached my destination and saw a faint light seeping through the cracks round the door.
But it wasn’t the coal cellar I had happened across, it was a small room, lit by candles, in which a mole (to my young eyes) of unbelievable antiquity sat bent over something at a table. She turned very slowly and stared at me so hard I thought my head might crumble.
‘Close the door’, she said.
Thinking back, I suspect she meant with me on the outside, but that didn’t occur to me at the time.
‘Who are you?’
‘Moley’, I squeaked, and to avoid the confusion of a positively Welsh over-use of names in our family, I told her how I was related to Great Uncle Mole.
‘I, in that case, am your Great Great Aunt Genevieve, and you have interrupted me.’
I told her I was sorry and I was looking for the coal cellar and matches and paraffin and I didn’t mean to disturb her.
She pointed to a corner of stores and told me to take what I needed.
As the day wore on, I began to think the whole episode must have been a product of my rather fertile imagination. But then there were the paraffin and the matches to be accounted for. I eventually broached the subject with Great Uncle Mole over bread-and-butter pudding in his kitchen that evening.
‘I met Great, Great Aunt Genevieve’, I said.
‘Did you, by jove. I’m surprised she didn’t skin you alive.’
It turned out skinned moles were rather nearer the heart of the matter than was entirely comfortable.
He told me that Great, Great Aunt Genevieve when she was the tiniest of nippers had wandered off from home and found herself in a molecatchers’ hut. Fortunately the catcher wasn’t there, but the hundreds of moleskins hanging from washing lines quite turned her mind. From that moment she eschewed company and announced that she wanted to become a monk. She was not in any way religious, but wanted solitude and, it turned out, to illuminate manuscripts to the exclusion of all else. The impracticalities were explained to her from all angles, but she was insistent. A compromise was reached. When she was old enough she would spend spring, summer and autumn teaching callisthenics and chemistry at a school for the daughters of impecunious gentlemoles, and in the winter a monkish cell and victuals would be provided for her.
On long summer evenings after the daughters of impecunious gentlemoles had gone to bed, Great, Great Aunt Genevieve busied herself with preparations. She collected insects and plants and minerals and experimented with them in the school laboratory. In the dead of night she raided molecatchers’ huts and stole the skins. And when she should have been marking homework she delved deep into mole family trees, worked out which ones had been taken before their prime, and wrote up their biographies. Each skin was a dedication to one of these moles.
And that was strictly between he and me. I was not to disturb Great, Great Aunt Gertrude again, nor was I to tell a soul about her, especially not that she was here.
And I haven’t until now, but she has been dead these past thirty years, and I want her remembered. On the eve of my departure from Great Uncle Mole’s that winter I found an illuminated moleskin on my pillow. There were no words, just a series of squares, a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress, a tiny lampblack mole growing up, rolling about, gambolling, summersaulting, cartwheeling and picnicking in verdigris grass under a turmeric sun in a lapis lazuli sky. It hangs on the wall within eyesight of my bed.
The lurgi was peculiarly well-timed. On the preceding day or two, as my antibodies fought heroically against invaders, I enjoyed moments of unusual lucidity. I could see an overview of my oeuvre, felt clear about how to proceed, sketched out a plan. And then I was smitten. I was forced to cancel all engagements. But then as I slowly emerged from the fog, all I could do was follow the steps I had laid out, and by the time my mind had begun to clear, and the sheets were washed, and the debris thrown away, I was deep in, undistracted, more immersed than I have been for – dare I say – years.
Is there, I wonder, just an inkling of Great, Great Aunt Genevieve in me?
Mole has decided to take a leaf out of Great, Great Aunt Genevieve’s book and concentrate on the oevre for the rest of the winter. The next murmurs will appear in spring.
Don’t ask me why I was burning precious midnight oil examining the proceedings of the 1842 Council of the Grand Duchy of Hesse, but a single word leapt out at me: eilen.
Eilen. That morning had been grey, low-clouded. I dragged my leaden self out of bed, out of the burrow, but Knocklofty had no draw. Just walk to the intersection, I told myself, then just to the house with the blue fence. Would it rain, I wondered, half hoping it would right then and force me back to my snuggery. Snail-creepingly I moved forward. The unwillingness of Shakespeare’s schoolboy hadn’t a patch on me.
Usually, once I step off the concrete road and onto the leaf-mould path, once over-hanging branches embower me and my ears are seduced by chirping, cackling and cawing birds, I am at one with the world and before and after cease to exist. But not that morning. Barely had my back paw crossed the threshold of the reserve and the voice that had coaxed me forward began insinuating that I was wasting time. Instead of enjoying being where I was I was thinking ahead to which route I should take – which would take least time, least effort. How best to get it over and done with. If I took the higher path, I thought, I would be less likely to dawdle at the look-out, but the higher path meant a steeper climb. I took the lower one.
Then something happened, there was a side path, I found myself on it, and then seeing bits of worn red brick poking through the soft, bright green moss, I started rootling about, wondering what buildings had once stood here where there were now saplings and bushes and bracken. Who had lived here, worked here? And I continued on the unfamiliar path, pausing at reflections in puddles, glimpses of view, idling my way back down the hill. Before I knew it I was home again – much sooner than I had expected.
The voice that plagued used to be an incessant companion but a few years ago I managed to banish it. Now I find it sneaking back. At first it issues words of encouragement, disguising its true intention to hurry, harangue and harass.
I can barely remember a time as a nipper when I didn’t feel driven by external forces to move more quickly than was comfortable. A song from a Noddy record became a refrain. ‘Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, do’ haunted my waking hours and I resided in a perpetual state of mild panic. In sleep, too, I dreamt of missing busses, classes, deadlines, and meals.
Except, that is, when I was staying with Great Uncle Mole. It may have been partly because I was there in the holidays but also, I think, that with Great Uncle Mole I come across a most miraculous being: a mole who was slower even than me. Neither he, nor Uncle Ratty for that matter, ever doubted that if you just pootled about with a project it would one day be done.
It was, of course, a tome of Great Uncle Mole’s over whose gnarly Gothic script I was ruining my feeble eyes over late the other night. It was some debate about introducing railways, and one Member of Council arguing against a hurried decision. Except he didn’t say ‘hurried’, a word that derives from the ‘hurr, hurr’ shouted by oxen-drivers to coax their animals forward, and that contains a threatening undertone of external pressure or time constraint. In the eighteenth century it described a state of internal agitation. When King George III had a brief period of respite from his mental illness, Fanny Burney mentioned that there was little left ‘of the disorder, but too much hurry of spirits’.
The Member of Council used the word ‘eilen’. Now ‘eilen’ to my ears contains none of the fretful, harrying, unsettling sound of ‘hurrying’. It is a Mercedes of a word, well-oiled, beautifully maintained, smooth, graceful and effortless. ‘Eilen’ is often reflexive – self- propelled, not imposed from outside. It moves forward, as I wish to, but never exhausts its capacity.
Whenever the dreaded oeuvre gets too much for me, I rug myself up and mosey my way towards Knocklofty. But the other morning I discovered that pixies had enjoyed a field day with my boots. The laces were pulled out, and when I went to rethread them I found that they had frayed and I could not get the laces through the holes.
I heard a growl forming in my throat but then, perhaps it was the way I was bent over, I remembered one midwinter when I was a nipper, quite a small one, three-and-a-half or a little more. It was a late afternoon, or at least it seemed to be but it may have been only half-past three – dusk at any rate. I was sitting on the hearth rug next to a blazing fire. My Grandpapa was ensconced in an armchair, bending forward to guide me through the knotty muddle of shoes and laces I was grappling with.
It was a tricky business. The shoes and laces were brown, the flames flickered and distorted and Grandpapa’s head, delicately haloed by the single standard lamp behind him, cast a shadow over the proceedings.
Grandpapa taught me two new words: aiglets and eyelets. He even wrote me a little verse about aiglets and eyelets and eaglets and eyries; something about eaglets and aiglets finding their way home to their eyries and eyelets. It was better, Grandpapa said, especially if you were a half-blind mole rather than a sharp-eyed eagle – to feel your way into lacing and tying. Indeed, aiglets and eyelets might have been designed with us in mind. You could hold the bound end of the lace, the aiglet, in your paw, and poke about on your shoe until it led you and the lace to and through the eyelet.
Now aiglets don’t often come up in conversation and the word had almost atrophied until another mid-winter’s day, darker even than the one before. I was living in a rackety old burrow in London – sharing digs with a mob of other young moles, hearts empassioned with politics and causes. There was no electricity and so for warmth and light we sat around the gas cooker in the kitchen, our back paws resting on the flap of the oven. Our conversations ranged far and wide, and on this particular afternoon we were discussing Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin which all gone to see the night before.
And someone said, I can’t remember who, that some of Eisenstein’s films had ended up in a shoelace factory and were turned into aiglets. We stared at the shadowy outlines of our shoe-encased paws and wondered what other films might be walking the streets: Mikaberidze’s 1929 film My Grandmother banned for lampooning Soviet bureaucracy, perhaps, or Yudin’s Four Hearts, too frivolous to be a true portrayal of the blood and muscle of Soviet life. Battleship Potemkin itself was banned in France, Germany and Finland. Did reels of it end up in shoelace factories in Paris, Berlin and Helsinki? And would we one day be called upon to remove the aiglets from our shoelaces so that rare and lost films could be cobbled together again?
Was it true about the aiglets? Was it a raconteur getting the better of himself on that cold afternoon. True or false, I can never eye an aiglet without thinking of hidden content nor, ever since reading that the Birmingham by-pass was built using two and a half million pulped Mills & Boon books, can I stop wondering what words might lie under my feet.
Now, preparing my boots for their venture out, I have bound the frayed lace ends with prosaic plain tape, but still I am using Grandpapa’s technique of feeling the improvised aiglets into the eyelets and thinking of how this binding up of loose ends and feeling one’s way towards a specific destination might be rather a good way to feel my way beyond the knottedness of the oeuvre.
I heard it yesterday at dusk. A haunting call, a female voice, sometimes two, maybe more – different pitches: long, drawn out notes, soft at first, gaining strength, then thinning again, moving in and out of earshot: hard to tell where it was coming from. A lure to the midwinter.
The moon is full, walking on Knocklofty it casts shadows that mislead, cutting off the light of the path ahead, opening up vistas that would draw me into the bush, have me tripping on roots, stumbling through trees, rolling down unexpected dips, ending up in ditches.
Dreams are stronger, stranger at this time of year. I feel both more bound to the earth and drawn to the stars. Movements, just out of sight, draw my attention from the matter at hand but disappear as I turn my head.
And glitter, I am tempted by glitter, give into the temptation. Such deviation from the task in hand would never have afflicted Great Uncle Mole, nor my Mama. Aren’t we from the same stock? I may have the exterior of a mole but sometimes I wonder whether I am a changeling. No matter how much I hone my intentions towards the oevre, my eyes pick up on the glitter and my paws uncouple themselves from my brain. I know I overfill my days, know that I have not yet evolved the capacity to run on parallel time, or clone myself, or speed up, but show me another course, something to learn, and I’m gone.
I watch myself slithering away from what’s difficult, shedding responsibilities, wanting to be led into play.
The siren calls began at dusk on the night of the full moon before the winter solstice; they are amplephied through 450 loud speakers attached to buildings and towers in the city and broadcast from a circling helicopter through a public address system used for tsunami warnings. They will touch something within me as the sun rises and as it sets again, lure me and lead me astray.
Across the world in Switzerland, my brother is drumming, drawing other drummers to him, rumbling a beat that that vibrates in the belly, comes from the earth, and like the sirens, broadcasts through the air.
It is my sister who draws my attention to the equipoise, and holds it in her paws,
drawing our worlds together.
I was sitting on my stoop, making the most of the late autumn sun. A short sharp cool breeze on my pelt awakened in me a pleasurable memory that lay just out of reach. I think the memory was eluding me because my pinched posterior, wedged as it was between the doorjamb and a dark chestnut box, kept bringing me back to the here and now. But it was the box that had tickled the memory, I was sure; something that made my paws tingle as I riffled through its contents.
A large label inserted into a brass frame on the front proclaimed ‘Germany’ in appropriately Gothic script. The box was one of sixteen that contained Great Uncle Mole’s map collection and had once been neatly stacked into a tower in his study. Now they resided in my cellar in a low rise arrangement; they required an Atlas of a mole to lift more than one at a time, and that Atlas was not, and never would be, me.
On this particular day I was looking for maps of the Hamburg docks, pre-war, post bombings and after reconstruction, but my paws had been pausing over something else.
Then I heard it, quite faint – but unmistakable: the ring of a bicycle bell.
And then it was back, air whooshing towards me, eyes watering, the hills, dales, hedges, woods – the horizon ahead staying the same but the peripheral horizons whizzing past; the glorious freedom of propelling myself on two wheels.
I now got an inkling which of the fifty or so maps in the box my paws had been hankering after. They knew without reference to the carefully tabulated subdivisions where it would be – which was fortunate because although I could remember idea of the map, I hadn’t the foggiest recollection of what part of Germany it covered.
Dresden/Prague, as it turned out. The map was produced by the Mittelbach Verlag, 1900. But what I remember is that I was eight. And although it was months after my birthday when I arrived at Great Uncle Mole’s that summer, there was a bicycle waiting for me, almost still wet from the red paint Uncle Ratty had coated it with.
And they were planning an outing.
Now, when Great Uncle Mole and Uncle Ratty planned an outing they really planned it. That day when I arrived, the old map of Dresden was spread out on the chart cabinet next to Great Uncle Mole’s drafting table. It had belonged to his Papa, he told me, and that indominatible mole had cycled the length and breadth of Mitteleuropa before the Great War changed its boundaries. And what, he asked, could I see on the map that was different from any other map I had seen. Now, I was still a novice as far as maps were concerned but I could see straight away that it was covered with read triangles. ‘Profiles’, Great Uncle Mole told me. ‘They have marked the gradients.’ He was applying the same method to a local map on his drafting table. My task, would be to work out a route with the easiest gradients. Our destination was fixed: Stoke Poges.
We set out just as the dawn chorus welled up and before there was any traffic. Uncle Ratty told me that he and Great Uncle Mole were on bicycles when they first met. They finished hub to hub in the Mercury race organised by the Royal Mail on its Telegraph Messenger Boys’ Annual Outing and Picnic in that dark year of 1916.
It took us over three hours to reach St Giles. Neither Great Uncle Mole nor Ratty were great ones for church and I was surprised (and a little disappointed) when I discovered this was our destination. But we leaned our bicycles against its ancient stone walls and wandered inside on wobbly, pedal-weary hindlegs. Our object was a stained glass window depicting a cherub blowing a trumpet, as cherubs do. But this particular cherub was also riding a bicycle.
Perhaps it was more a velocipede, that invention of the enterprising radical, Baron Karl von Drais who built his contraption in the the wake of the Mt Tambara volcano eruption when the world chilled, snow fell all summer, crops failed and there were no more horses to ride.
It was a rite of passage for a small mole. Suddenly, trudging on ones hindlegs, seemed drearily slow. The bicycle expanded my horizons, my sense of independence, mole and bicycle merged into a single, fleet being.
As I grew older I clustered with other teenage moles and their bicycles and we schemed and plotted outings and parties and daredevil acrobatics.Our eyes had begun to rove by then. Freewheeling with one paw hanging onto the back of a tram was not enough excitement; we had our sights on things with engines. We hankered after Velosolexes.
Now I am a walking mole again. I like the time it takes , the gift of that space between setting off point and destination – but, oh dear, there are times when some whoosh of air on my snout – some memory, almost physical in intensity, makes my eyes water and brings a longing for the freedom of the velocipede.
I was padding around my neighbourhood the other day, going some messages, as Uncle Ratty’s Scottish Aunt Agatha would say. The phrase to me evokes one’s own familiar locality, a network of inter-relationships, of picking up and delivering, moseying between places on foot and greeting or chatting to anyone coming the other way. My messages, took me down the hill a little to drop off a note about borrowing a car, a few steps more to cancel a massage and a few steps more to thank a friend for a meal. It meant strolling across the road and chatting to a chum who was working in her garden, waving at people in the café, idling into the post office to buy flowers and stamps and to post two cards for friends beyond the message orbit. And here I was given a banana because they had noticed that days before I had left one on the counter. The next little stretch sloped downhill and veered leftwards towards the creek and led to the recipient of said flowers, and a cup of tea and a hug; then a steep climb through a back yard – with a wallaby beside me – to slip a card of congratulations under the door.
And back to my burrow.
When does this sense of neighbourhood begin? I am a creature of habit, a homebody, a nester by inclination, but I have moved twenty-six times:
lived in three different countries, five cities and countless villages, hamlets, isolated spots. I have shaped myself into attics and cellars, shared rooms, shared burrows, solitary burrows, big burrows, small burrows and a humpy in a clearing in a forest. I have lived on hillsides and near the sea, I have lived next to a bombsite, next to a railway station, next to a farm, next to a brothel, next to an apple shed, next to a tennis court, and between a locksmith and a courthouse.
When does the sense of not just in but next to start? In my fleeting places – places I am merely visiting for a week or two – I am not adventurer. I like to pinpoint one or two retreats, a shop perhaps, a café, not more. These I visit repeatedly, making them my neighbourhood. In big cities and burrows shared with others, it was the public spaces that became familiar – the shopkeepers I spoke to: fish and chip shops, grocers, laundromats and the pub. But sharing burrows, although easing one’s sense of belonging, can diminish one’s antennae for neighbourhood. Moles living together often flock together and the self-sufficiency of our bandedness can pre-empt us from getting to know those around us.
Once upon a time moles never moved far from their original burrows. When I think of Great Uncle Mole I get a sense of what that kind of embeddedness feels like. I never visited him anywhere but the one burrow. It had belonged to his forbears before him. Quite apart from the mental ancestral charts he maintained of all his neighbours, Great Uncle Mole’s knowledge of his surroundings reached deep into the earth, extended itself around and into the trees, the hills, the seasons.
In Switzerland there are different words in the official language of belonging. As well as Geburtsort (place of birth) and Wohnungsort (place of residence) a mole has a designated Heimatort, a home, which is deemed to be the birthplace of the parent whose name it has taken. It gives, or intends to give, the nipper a deeper rootedness than its place of birth might. When I was small most Swiss stayed close to their roots and the three identifications of Geburts-,Wohnungs-, and Heimatsort were one and the same, but the British were gallivanters, my molekin in particular, and my place of birth, residence, and Heimatort were dotted in three, or was it four, countries. The concept of Heimatort was the most confusing of all. Mine was Karachi; – but how to identify it further? Was it in India, where Karachi was when my Papa was born, or Pakistan where it is now?
There were glimmers of neighbourhood in the various places I lived as small nipper: a weighing machine outside a chemists, a belisha beacon and a zebra crossing, a small bridge leading to allotments, and a roundabout mysteriously called the Ace of Spades. But we stayed nowhere long enough for a real sense of neighbourhood. Indeed, it was only the burrows of my grandparents that seemed to grant any sense of stability – I was unaware at the time that it was only as older moles they had settled after nomadic lives.
We moved to a new place in a new country and with a new language just as I was reaching the age of exploration (of self and neighbourhood). Why was I here?What does anything mean? My Mama sought refuge in landscape and sent me on botanical excursions. I listened to the moles about me, wondering whether they were greeting me or calling me names, learned to find my way home, stumbled over the words to ask for bread in the corner shop, began to learn the names of those who shared our six-family burrow. Gradually I became known as Frau so-and-so’s nipper, visited the old paper-maker up the road, was invited in by a painter near the cross-roads. After a while the neighbourhood became my own. I knew nippers who lived at the orphanage, on the farm, in the new flats.
That neighbourhood is imprinted on my molemind both as it was at the beginning and how it is now.
Although I am a solitary sort of a mole, I have always been happiest if there are others close at hand. Places I have lived far from neighbours have palled – I can appreaciate their beauty but not feel it in my moleheart. Bern and Hobart are not dissimilar in size. In both cases I have lived not in the city but in a neighbourhood within walking distance of it. You might think I that the first experience predisposed me to seek out and feel at home in the second.
But that isn’t the case. When I first moved here I felt its lack of a visible neighbourhood. I felt the linearity and length of the road on which it sits rather than the heart of the blocks that the cross-streets create. It has taken years and years of walking its pavements, the slowness of walking that allows a mole to drink in the smells and moods of a place, allows a mole to greet the fellows it meets; the repeated greetings, then the greeting that extend to chats, and the chats to conversations and sometimes even to friendship.
I have been here for over two decades now and so seen nippers born and grow and and move on. I have grown older with others – I know the place and am known in this place in the way my dear Mama and Papa were known in the village that became an outskirt of Bern, the one I still know in my bones and where they lived for fifty years before they died.
Shedding jumpers as I walk up to the Knocklofty summit.
How strange it can be when past and future, instead of receding in either direction as they should, collide in the present.
I was standing in my street here in this remote, southern outpost, farewelling the latest Sprössling, the youngest molelet, when I became faintly aware of French being spoken and when I turned round I saw a chap I had last seen seven years ago, on the other side of the world, in the parental burrow in Bern.
I felt a sort of whoosh of heart and soul as I waved simultaneously at my future departing and my past arriving. It was odd, uncomfortable and somehow momentous.
Had you been a fly on the wall of the Bern burrow that evening seven years ago you might have noted the sparse furnishings and the many boxes. In a room that had once been my Papa’s study you would have seen a figure bent over a small city of stamp albums. Flitting to another room you would have seen three siblings, two of them sitting at the one remaining table eating boiled eggs with soldiers.
The third, had just arrived; he jingled the keys to the cellar and proposed bringing up a bottle of our late Papa’s dwindling wine collection.
The figure bent over the albums unwound himself at last and joined us. He lived in France but commuted daily to the Universal Postal Union in Bern. He was a collector of stamps and any ephemera to do with trees and he told us that, alas, the collection that had belonged to our late Mama was worth very little. However, he said as he sniffed the vintage St Emilion Chateau Cheval Blanc – this was formidable.
He spoke no Bärndütsch and between us we siblings struggled to string more than three words together in French, so our conversation, as I remember, was animated with great paw-waving and exaggerated facial expressions.
And this is the way we met again the other day, each as discombobulated as the other, here on the street where I now live.
For years I straddled the two hemispheres, and in those years leading up to that evening in Bern, although my body was in Tasmania, my mind was constantly mapping over there, as I imagined myself into the thoughts and needs of my Mama, mapped the locations around her, spoke Bärndütsch to tradies, advisors, doctors.
After my parents had gone, when the burrow in Bern had been ceded to its next inhabitant and I had returned home, I became aware of a lessening of the pull of there, a growing peace with here. But still there was an unease in my paws, the soil was not quite right, the trees were odd, the sun too bright.
The soil, the trees, the sun still hover beyond my grasp but since the arrival of the smallest molelet, the one I was farewelling when my past came hurtling towards me, I have come to feel an embeddedness that had eluded me for most of my life.